Two US carrier groups conduct joint exercises in South China Sea

WASHINGTON • Two American carrier groups conducted joint exercises in the South China Sea yesterday, days after a US warship sailed near Chinese-controlled islands in the disputed waters, as China denounced the US for damaging peace and stability.

The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group and the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group "conducted a multitude of exercises aimed at increasing inter-operability between assets as well as command and control capabilities", the US navy said, marking the first dual carrier operations in the busy waterway since July last year.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the frequent moves by US warships and aircraft into the South China Sea in a "show of force" was not conducive to regional peace and stability.

"China will continue to take necessary measures to firmly safeguard national sovereignty and security and work with countries in the region to firmly safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea," he said.

The exercise comes days after China condemned the sailing of destroyer USS John McCain near the Chinese-controlled Paracel Islands in what the United States calls a freedom of navigation operation - the first such mission by the US navy since President Joe Biden took office.

Last month, the US military said Chinese military flights over the South China Sea fit a pattern of destabilising and aggressive behaviour but posed no threat to a US navy aircraft carrier strike group in the region.

The US has contested China's extensive territorial claims in the region, accusing Beijing of militarising the South China Sea and trying to intimidate neighbours such as Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, who have claims that overlap with China's in the resource-rich area.

"We are committed to ensuring the lawful use of the sea that all nations enjoy under international law," said Rear-Admiral Jim Kirk, commander of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group.

China has been infuriated by repeated US sailings near the islands it controls in the region.

Beijing says it has irrefutable sovereignty and has accused the US of deliberately stoking tension.

China has also been angered by US warships sailing through the Taiwan Strait, including one last week, also the first such operation under the Biden administration.

Separately, a French nuclear attack submarine was among two navy ships that recently conducted a patrol through the South China Sea.

The SNA Emeraude was accompanied by support ship BSAM Seine for the passage, Defence Minister Florence Parly said on Twitter late on Monday.

"This extraordinary patrol has just completed a passage in the South China Sea. A striking proof of the capacity of our French Navy to deploy far away and for a long time together with our Australian, American and Japanese strategic partners," she said on Twitter with a picture of the two vessels at sea.

France, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, has exclusive economic zones in the Pacific around its overseas territories and has stressed the importance of defending freedom of navigation in the region.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2021, with the headline 'Two US carrier groups conduct joint exercises in South China Sea'. Subscribe